During the endless nearly-two-billion-dollars-down-a-rathole presidential campaign, many pundits and prognosticators opined that Donald Trump didn’t really want to win the election. The ultimate narcissist, he really craved attention for his constant need to be in the spotlight. To continue his reality show bona fides after NBC dumped him because of racist comments. All such pundit opinions seemed plausible, because as a serious candidate he was a joke, a Dadaist prank in action.
But it took MSNBC’s Chris Matthews to really put his long finger on it. Trump’s shtik, he said, was “performance art.” As a performance artist, I’m inclined to agree.
Per khanacademy.org: “Performance art differs from traditional theater in its rejection of a clear narrative, use of random or chance-based structures, and direct appeal to the audience.” Art historian RoseLee Goldberg writes: ‘Historically, performance art has been a medium that challenges and violates borders between disciplines and genders, between private and public, and between everyday life and art, and that follows no rules.’” Much of Goldberg’s definition of the genre sounds like a perfect description of the Trump campaign.
Another aspect of performance art that is even more relevant to the impending Trump regime is the relative lack of importance of the final product. When performance artist Chris Burden is shot in the arm by a friend (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26R9KFdt5aY), that’s the piece. The only record of the event is an audio description, a short video, and some still photography. Similarly, when Karen Finley smears herself with chocolate, the performance and its message are the art (https://anotherrighteoustransfer.wordpress.com/tag/karen-finley/). Finley is not going to let the chocolate harden and then frame herself, for example.
Trump is a master of theater of the absurd. During his surreal campaign, the majority of his utterances were completely false and devoid of substance, but the performance was perversely entertaining. The message, if any, is open to interpretation, in part because the statements were so ludicrous. To paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, the performance was the message.
But it backfired. Trump won. So what is he now to do? Either abdicate or continue the performance for four years. If so, the performance is no longer a solo effort. He’ll have to bring the enlarging retinue of sycophants in on the action. Perhaps he can berate Kellyanne Conway in front of Congress while Richard Spencer models SS uniforms. The possibilities seem endless.
Or he might team up with performance artist Anders Lund:
In an alternative universe, he could even be Lund. Anything is possible.